Some rules were made to be broken. Others weren’t.
There is no one right way to practice polyamory (poly) or open relationships. Part of the charm of this relationship style is that when the rules don’t work for you, you create your own or in some case throw them out altogether.
But there are a few underlying principles and best practices to increase your chances of success with an open relationship of any kind.
1. Everyone must be comfortable with what you are doing
I dated a guy who was poly for 2 years. He never stopped referring to what we were doing as cheating. Despite the fact that his wife was happy with the situation and was one of my closest friends, he was in some ways still uncomfortable with the situation. And that put a strain on our relationship.
Just like in regular dating, you’ll meet people who challenge your assumptions about yourself and help you grow.
I met a guy who was into sensual Japanese rope tying and surprised myself (but only little) by being into it. I had to work through some awkward feelings about what I wanted to do with certain people. There were things I wanted from the guy I was dating that I didn’t want from my husband.
Feeling guilty and confused, I talked to my husband. I had never stopped to consider that he had felt the same things and that the bedroom activities with his other partner were different from what he and I did. Feeling less guilty, I dived into the other relationship. And had a blast.
Sometimes you may be unsure about something or someone new. The key is to get to the root of why you’re uncomfortable and get past it.
2. Never, ever lie
This is the one universal rule of poly. Every couple (or thruple, etc) makes their own rules according to what works for them. But this is the one constant.
It’s been interesting to step back and examine the occasions when I have been tempted to lie. In my case, it usually revolves around fear of being judged. On one occasion, I was on a second date with a guy and stayed out longer than I intended.
Not wanting my husband to think I was some sort of hussy, I was tempted to tell him I was already home rather than just then leaving my date (he was away from home but I always text to let him know I’m safe).
To be clear, my husband would have been fine with a long date or even if I had gone home with the other guy. The judgement was all mine. The temptation I felt was a sign that I had some work to do with being comfortable with myself and my decisions.
3. Planning is your friend (and your partner’s)
Many of us are operating at about 110% capacity most days. Knowing when your partner is going to be home for cooking duties or snuggles (or both) helps everyone’s keep life balanced. Dating can complicate things.
One of the most complex things about dating someone who is married or in another relationship is that if the date goes well you can’t necessarily go back to their place without some planning ahead.
It’s not uncommon to see those in the poly community praise the usefulness of Google Calendar. Shared calendars let everyone know that responsibilities are taken care of while giving each other some space to spend time with whoever they are seeing on that particular evening.
Make plans and communicate them clearly.
4. Find out what your partner (all of them) is comfortable with
One important rule in Poly is that the group moves at the pace of the least comfortable person. If you or someone in your dating circle is new to poly, recovering from a bad relationship, or just plain unsure about the situation, everyone needs to work within that person’s comfort zone.
When we first opened our marriage I was scared. So we took baby steps. As I saw that our marriage wouldn’t crumble, I relaxed many of the rules I had initially needed.
One example was letting them go on a long weekend trip. That was a big step. Big enough that we went back to our marriage counselor, something we hadn’t done in a couple of months.
When she asked us the reason for the visit I told her “He might go on a short trip with his girlfriend and I think I’m OK with it. But this is a big deal and I want to be sure we don’t f*ck this up.”
We spent the hour talking through fears, expectations, and exploring questions. I made fun plans for myself to ward off jealousy or resentment, they went on the trip, and everyone was fine. That was the first of several trips with Other Significant Others over the last few years.
5. Set specific expectations
One of the best ways to avoid disagreements and misunderstandings is to communicate expectations. Especially for those starting out with poly, specifics are really important.
When my husband first started dating, we would agree that he would be home around 10. I meant be home by 10, he heard that he should head home close to 10. So when he came home at 10:10 or 10:15 I had had 10 or 15 minutes to overthink everything.
I did not want to be that rigid and I tried to be OK with the differences in understanding. But by the third date I had to accept my own limitation and communicate that to my husband. Once I did so, he understood the importance of being home by 10.
These days things are much more loosy-goosy. But the importance of specific expectations and mutual understanding of those expectations can not be overstated.
Successful relationships in every style
All of these rules exist in healthy monogamous relationships too. Being poly simply means you need to apply the rules a little differently and consider more people’s needs when doing so. And if you make a mistake, fess up, have a productive conversation about why the mistake was made, and determine ways to prevent a recurrence.
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